Ontario to expand ‘strong mayor’ powers to smaller cities, launches $1.2B incentive fund



The Ontario government will extend so-called “strong mayor” powers to almost two dozen smaller cities and is launching a $1.2 billion fund to reward municipalities that meet provincially-mandated home-building targets, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

Speaking at a meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Ford said these measures will help municipalities meet the province’s goal of building 1.5 million homes by 2031 to address the housing shortage and affordability crisis.

“The building faster fund and strong mayor powers are providing municipalities with powerful new tools to build homes and to build them faster,” according to Ford’s prepared remarks to representatives of the province’s 444 municipalities gathered at the conference in London, Ont.

A year and half ago, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives laid down specific housing targets for 29 of the province’s largest and fastest-growing municipalities to hit by 2031.

Today, Ford announced targets had been assigned to 21 additional municipalities with populations projected to exceed 50,000 by 2031, including Aurora, Sarnia, Thunder Bay and Belleville.

Municipalities with heads of council who commit to these targets, in writing, by Oct. 15 of this year will receive strong mayor powers by the end of that month, according to a background document provided by the province.

Strong mayor powers include allowing mayors to propose housing-related bylaws and pass them with the support of one-third of councillors, as well as override council approval of certain bylaws and prepare their city’s budget, instead of council.

Ford also said municipalities that reach 80 per cent of their annual housing target will become eligible for funding from the new three-year, $1.2-billion program that can be used to pay for infrastructure to service the needs of new residents, including roads, water and sewer lines.

“These are incredible sums of money that will reward municipalities for building homes and help pay for important infrastructure and community building projects,” Ford said in his remarks.

Ten per cent of the money in that fund will be reserved for small, rural and northern communities, Ford said, which have not yet been assigned a housing target by the province.

Municipalities have been raising concerns about a provincial law that cuts some of the fees developers pay, which the communities use to fund such infrastructure.

The More Homes Built Faster Actwhich passed in November 2022, froze, reduced or exempted developers from paying fees municipalities charge them for some types of housing, including affordable housing, non-profit housing and inclusionary zoning units — meaning affordable housing in new developments — as well as some rental units.

The Association of Municipalities of Ontario has warned the changes could leave municipalities short $5 billion and see taxpayers footing the bill — either in the form of higher property taxes or service cuts — and that nothing in the bill would guarantee improved housing affordability.

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